Skip to main content

How not to be a tourist

Do you enjoy travelling but dislike the idea of being a tourist? Help is here.

"Where's the Mona Lisa, we're doubleparked!" was the caption on a New Yorker cartoon several years ago. The image showed a camera-laden couple tearing up the steps of the Louvre. It summed up the empty side of tourism – tick the box, buy the t-shirt, go home.

Most of us see ourselves as not conforming to this ugly, vacuous tourist stereotype, though we've no doubt shuffled along some of the same worn cobbles and snapped away at the Eiffel Tower with the best of them. Do you enjoy travelling, see it as important to get the most out of it and want to avoid the 'tourist trap'? Here are some navigation aids.

Get lingual

Learning even a few words of the language of the country you're visiting will a pay dividends... most obviously in the form of a broad smile or two. Locals love it when you make the effort and will be that much more likely to offer assistance, should you need it. The more contact you can have with locals, the more you'll learn and the more fun you'll have. And besides, learning another tongue is good brain exercise.

Travel with a purpose

A purpose can make a trip 10 times more fulfilling and interesting than it would have been if it were simply a sightseeing excursion. The purpose could be any one of a number of things, perhaps writing travel stories for your local newspaper or conducting genealogical research by looking up long-lost relatives. Projects such as these put you in communication with locals in a way that wouldn't be possible otherwise, and it's people contact that provides a trip's fondest, most memorable moments. Another idea is to build the trip around a specialist tour by your hobby group, e.g. bridge club, cricket team or wine club.

Dress smart

You don't have to wear a sari in Mumbai or a fez in Marrakesh, but nor do you want to dress in a way that screams "Yes, I AM a tourist!" That means not donning that "I ♥ Rome" souvenir t-shirt until you've left the city – no local would be seen dead in one. And avoid the practice adopted by many frightened tourists of wearing your backpack in front, rather than on your back. They do this for fear of being robbed. The backpack-to-front look simply advertises (very strongly) the fact you're not only a tourist, but also a paranoid one. Scammers pick up on signs like that. Leave your pack on your back, and use a money belt.

There's no rush

Tourists rush through lists of sightseeing clichés and remember little; travellers take their time and see what they want to see. Plan ahead, prioritise, don't rush and be flexible. If you're so enjoying that hot soak in Budapest's art nouveau Gellert Baths it means you won't have time to visit the Basilica of St Stephen, so be it.

Venture off the beaten track

They may not come in the form of high gothic architecture or places of great historic moment, but the richest travel experiences often come from following little-known paths. Away from the main tourist routes you tend to find food and culture of greater authenticity, and people with greater willingness to share it.

  • Last updated on .